Walking to the bench Saturday night in Wilmette, New Trier Green head coach Bob Melton knew what was at stake. It was Game 3 of the SHL Championship against Loyola Gold but there was a calmness about him. That calmness turned to joy after a 2-1 win for the SHL Championship title.
"I wouldn't say it was confidence," Melton said. "It was more relief. I felt good that if we got it to Game 3 that we had a good chance at winning."
Louie Lybrook sealed the win for New Trier, scoring both of their goals but it wasn't easy. Loyola Gold came out strong. Danny Stevens found the back of the net first to set the pace with 4:12 left in the first. Lybrook tied it up just minutes into the second. After a nail-biting period and a half he knocked in the game winner with five minutes left to play.
"I couldn't have done it without my linemen," Lybrook said, "Johnny Huber and Michael Graham passed me the puck, it was an easy backdoor tap. At the beginning of the game I wasn't in a groove, then I scored and I was just feeling it the rest of the night."
Heart rates rose when Loyola's Ben Odle nailed a shot but the goal was disallowed for a crease violation.
"It was unbelievable," said New Trier goaltender Will Douthit. "Loyola came to play, with two overtime games and this one came right down to the end also, it was a great series."
Melton couldn't be more proud of his team as they continue to accomplish their goals.
"We won the league, now we won the league playoffs, our league is the toughest league in the state and for these guys to win both is huge," he said. "Now we're on to state but I told them they have to enjoy this, state's one and done, so we play all year for our league, state is a different animal but to be the best team in the SHL is a great accomplishment."
As Loyola Gold prepared to host Glenbrook North Sunday afternoon, they knew what they were getting into and what was at stake. Not only did Michael Gonzalez, Danny O'Grady and Ryan Hill come through, but game-changing goals were scored by Ben Huber and Will Odle, sweeping The Spartans 5-2 in the SHL Semifinals.
"It was awesome," said head coach DJ LaVarre, "I told the guys before, we need effort from both ends of the rope. Whether you're a top guy or a bottom guy, we're all the same and we all need to pull together and we had some other guys step up today because we came together, we're all a team. It was a great team win."
Both teams were hungry and came out strong. Glenbrook North brought the intensity and held a 1-0 lead until Will Huber tied it up at the 11:57 mark in the second.
"It feels really good to step up," said Huber. "It could have been anybody but I was at the right spot at the right time and happened to get one in."
Shortly after, Ben Dodle came through with 9:20 left in the second to break the tie for the 2-1 lead.
"It was a great shot," said Dodle. "It was a team effort for sure. Everyone had a role in this game and everyone trusted each other, it was a big win."
Two minutes later, the tables started to turn. Glenbrook North does what they do best and snuck up from behind in the third and tied the game at 2. Loyola Gold got a little nervous but they weren't too shaken up once Gonzalez stepped up and knocked in the game-winner.
"Going into this we knew we had to make a statement, make a little noise," said Gonzalez. "It was a big deal for us to sweep [Glenbrook North]. We're not done seeing them yet but this was really important. "
LaVarre said that Glenbrook North scoring first is what kind off sparked Loyola's offense.
"I thought we had a better start, even though they scored first," said LaVarre. "After that we just 'boom,' picked up again. We talked about supporting each other and I told them, at the end of this game if we lost, the person who's going to feel the worst about anything is the goalie. We all stepped up for the goalie today because we're a family and we believe in each other."
Hill scored Gold's fourth goal and O'Grady scored on an open net for the fifth and final.
Loyola Gold will play New Trier Green who swept Rockford after a 2-1 win Sunday afternoon. Date and time of Game 1 is still TBD.
It is said that good things come in threes. For Loyola Gold, it is in the form of Dan O'Grady, Michael Gonzalez and Ryan Hill. All of which scored in a 3-2 win over Glenbrook North in the first game of the SHL Semifinals Friday night.
"They bended, but they didn't break," said head coach DJ LaVarre, who refers to this trio as the team's glue. "They've been in this position before, they know what to expect, they're playing by example now."
Glenbrook North came out hungry. They were quick and they kept possession for most of the first period but just couldn't find the back of the net.
"Today, we just got really unlucky," said GBN's Nick Mikhaylov. "We just kept hitting the post. They made some crazy saves at the goal line and we just couldn't bury it."
Before you knew it, O'Grady came in with a goal with nine minutes left in the first to kick things off for Gold. They held the 1-0 lead and Gonzalez came in with a goal followed shortly by Hill to end the second with a 3-0 lead.
"We were really hyped and knew what we were getting in to," said Gonzalez. "We played a lot faster [than last time the two played], smarter, less turnovers, a lot more shots, just smarter hockey at the end of the day."
It felt like the blink of an eye once O'Grady scored and like a switch it turned into Loyola's game. Then another blink and Glenbrook North threatened their lead after scoring their second goal with 2:17 left to play.
"The first and second periods we played well, went all out," said Hill. "I'm proud of the way we played. I think we let back in third period while [Glenbrook North] brought up their intensity and gave us a good name."
Game 2 will be at Heartland Ice Arena Sunday, February 14th at 4:30p.